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How leadership teams can face and fix their “undiscussable” dysfunctions

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 10 January 2020

Issue publication date: 20 January 2020




This interview of two IMD professors examines how leadership teams that are struggling to make decisions or experiencing tensions, can address the root causes of dysfunctionality -- "undiscussables" of some kind – unexpressed thoughts and feelings that, if addressed effectively, could help the team work more productively.


The interviewees identify four varieties of undiscussables, each with its own drivers and solutions: 10;∙9; “Things we think but don’t say.” 10;∙9; “Things we say but don’t mean.” 10;∙9; “Things we feel but can’t name.” 10;∙9; “Things we do but don’t realize.” 10;


Several high profile corporate disasters from Enron to Theranos are rooted in undiscussables with dysfunctional top teams stifling questioning voices and slowly creating a culture of fear denial and delusion that ends up leading the company astray. Team members are either unable or unwilling to express what ails them which systematically distorts their formal and informal interactions.

Practical implications

One key insight for leaders who are part of the “undicussable” proble: they need to demonstrate to followers that they prefer it when people push back and make them think.


By distinguishing the four types of undiscussables and delineating a fix for each the interview shows how to create a team context where criticism is an expected norm and questioning each other’s reasoning is not viewed as disloyal but rather as a valuable chance to learn and improve together.


Sterling, J. (2020), "How leadership teams can face and fix their “undiscussable” dysfunctions", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 48 No. 1, pp. 12-20.



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